Innovation and adaptation…
Giraffes are the tallest animals in the world, standing proudly on their majestic, long legs. But when Msituni the giraffe, whose name means 'in the forest' in Swahili, was born with abnormalities in its legs, its life and well-being were threatened.
The disorder caused the giraffe's front legs to bend the wrong way and prevented it from standing, walking and nursing. Msituni weighed more than 55 kilos at birth and the disorder was already taking its toll on her joints and bones.
The zoo staff decided to seek help from a local clinic, Hanger Clinic, which specialises in making prosthetic limbs for athletes with disabilities. The clinic was faced with the challenge of making a custom brace for a 178 cm tall giraffe.
Before finding the perfect solution for the little giraffe's morphology, the clinic's orthopaedic surgeon first tried to assemble several post-operative knee prostheses that he cut up and sewed back together to fit Msituni's legs. This first attempt was a failure, as the homemade brace did not fit the animal's leg well. He then decided to use medical quality braces, modified for the giraffe’s long legs. Unfortunately, it was in vain, as Msituni soon broke them.
…for a customised leg brace made of composite materials
Hanger Clinic finally found the solution by calling in a company that specialises in manufacturing prostheses and orthoses for horses.
Using custom moulds reaching from the top of the animal's legs to its calf, Hanger Clinic managed to manufacture carbon graphite orthopaedic prostheses in 8 days and fit Msituni with her new appliances. As they can be fully customised, they are even covered with a pattern matching the giraffe's coat, for a more natural look.
These orthoses are easy to fit and are attached to the front legs. The composite material used is very strong and lightweight so that the animal is not hindered, and its joint is properly supported, with optimal comfort.
Msituni, after 3 months of care, is now hopping around! The zoo has declared the prostheses a success, and she is now with the rest of the giraffes in the zoo's 24-hectare East African savannah park.
The wildlife conservation programme makes sense
Scientific teams have estimated that fewer than 100,000 giraffes remain in their natural habitat, a decline of more than 40% over the past 20 years. This downward trend is due to habitat loss and fragmentation, and poaching that continues to plague some areas.
Zoos are increasingly turning to doctors and human health specialists to find solutions for sick animals. And the collaboration is particularly successful in the area of prosthetics and orthotics. Earlier this year, ZooTampa in Florida teamed up with similar experts to successfully replace the beak of a large hornbill suffering from cancer with a 3D printed prosthesis.
The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is an international non-profit conservation leader committed to inspiring a passion for preserving nature and protecting wildlife through innovation. Through the Alliance, 44 endangered species have been reintroduced to their natural habitats to date.